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History of Patchwork Quilts

George Pettit

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The article title inspires images of a gaggle of ladies companionably gathered around a patchwork quilt exchanging tidbits of gossip, usually called a quilting bee. Or maybe a housewife all alone, late at night in her pioneer home, laboring over clothing that has long been worn to pieces, sewing the different parts together with love into something that will keep the family warm during those cold winter nights by the fire. Conjured images like this are heartwarming, but the patchwork quilt is really not as old as you may think, in relative terms.

Records of estates reveal few patchwork quilts made before the 1800s, but those that are recorded are valued much more highly than other coverlets. Those made during the 1700s were made with leftover odds and ends.
Because of cheaper materials and fabrics, the Industrial Revolution largely used to promote quilting, playing a large role in promoting their creation. Patchwork quilting was revolutionized in the mid 1800s when the first sewing machine came into existence, exploding into virtually every home.

Pieced and appliqued patchwork quilts were a focal point at social events, such as county fairs. Vines, flowers, stars and feathers of every conceivable design were lovingly shown, and prizes were hotly fought over during for quilting contests. The winners were highly revered in social circles.

The Comeback Quilt

Unfortunately handmade items were less popular in the late 1900s as many ladies were more impressed with the ease and convenience of manufactured quilts. However, they are experiencing a huge resurgence during the last few decades. At last, people are attending craft events and festivals, and magazines are dedicated to quilting patterns. Patchwork quilting blogs are all the rage while once again friends are joining to stitch and sew and gossip.

The Care of Your Patchwork Quilt

If you are one of the fortunate few that have had a patchwork quilt handed down to you, take care on storage and care. Never, ever place it in a plastic bag as the material will sweat and ruin. Instead, place tissue free (acid free) paper in between the folds, wrapping it with a cotton pillowcase or sheet. At least every other month take it out and refold it to keep it from getting permanent creases or coming apart, and always store your patchwork quilt away from sunlight in consideration of the dyes.


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